A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Merciful Care Not Mercy Killing

by Fr Brian O'Connell sm

Every few years a bill to legalise euthanasia is introduced into the NZ Parliament. Up till now, this country has voted it down. Again in 2012 a private members bill legalizing “Life End Choice” is waiting to be drawn out for parliament’s attention. The promoters of this bill are careful to avoid the word euthanasia in the title, as this is a word that means killing, or at least mercy killing, which is a contradiction in terms.

NZ’s Prime Minister made a comment some months ago which demonstrates how ill-informed he is on these matters. John Key said that the country does not need a bill to legalise euthanasia because it happens all the time in our hospitals. He was immediately contradicted by doctors and hospice professionals all over the country who stated clearly that they were not engaged in euthanasia. Woman in bed

This is what happens in an open society. John Key is popular and influential, and leads from the front. For example when he declared early in the debate on homosexual marriage that he was in favour, the bill was passed by a large majority in its first vote. In Australia a similar bill was recently thrown out.

Euthanasia has always had  its supporters in the community, though it is a criminal offence. The courts have some discretion when those who euthanase their aged relatives come to court. There is usually a prison sentence though recently a judge refused to convict a man who had helped his wife die.

One elderly woman gained some notoriety by having tattooed on her chest DO NOT RESUSCITATE. This instruction is not necessarily morally reprehensible. A patient has a right to refuse over-zealous treatment. But the same woman died recently by self-administering lethal drugs after ringing friends telling them  what she was doing. Her family were not told, and one of her obviously distraught sons declared to the media:“She did not have to do this NOW”.

The moral principles involved in these cases are not always self- evident. cf Article by John Kleinsman P12. Despite amazing advances in medical science and pain management, it is not morally required to take extraordinary means to prolong life. Some pain management may actually shorten life as a side effect. Life support systems can be switched off with the consent of next of kin, and this happens routinely in hospitals. This is not euthanasia, as such systems are classed as ‘extraordinary means’. It seems to be a common sense decision if the patient will never recover, and medical resources are limited.

The Catechism of the Catholic church supports the right of a patient to reject “over-zealous” treatment (n.2278), but also teaches that voluntary cooperation in suicide is gravely wrong.(n.2282). We can hope that our law-makers are not tempted to legalise this out of a mistaken sense of compassion.

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